When it comes to doctors in the virtual space, you have to consider: Who are you? Why are you there? And what will define you? You have to consider your physician identity online.
Start with your digital identity
This may sound crazy, but there are a lot of doctors who don’t know who they are. Publicly, I mean. They haven’t figured out how they want to represent themselves online, and it’s easy to see how they can get confused.
Your identity is how you identify on line. You probably have multiple identities like doctor, father, volley ball coach or spouse. Some identify as spiritual individuals heavily rooted in their faith. So when it comes time to sign up for a profile on a site like Twitter, for example, it can be confusing to decide how to present yourself.
Each identity has its own meaning, role, and place. Most of us as doctors, however, will identify online primarily as doctors. Many doctors who have been on Facebook for years as ‘citizens’ identify as brothers, sons and former high school classmates. Our medical work and thinking is effectively absent.
Whats your purpose?
When I help doctors onboard to the virtual world, I usually begin with the question: Why do you want to be public? While I build this argument in The Case for a Doctor’s Online Presence, I’m looking for more granular or specific goals.
What you do, where you live, and what you intentionally create in public should be determined by what you want to accomplish. What are you trying to get done? What’s your passion?
Perhaps you want to
- build a strong public presence to keep your practice competitive in your community;
- draw visibility to a non-profit focused on health reform;
- draw public attention to research going on in your lab;
- become a more visible figure in vaccine awareness;
- build a business as a professional speaker; or
- use social tools to build a personal learning network
Understanding your raison d’etre is critical to building value for yourself. If you don’t find that there’s value, you’ll regress to your analog ways and, as we say, ‘go dark.’
Once you have some idea of who you are and what you’re trying to get done, you can drill down on your brand.
Every physician has a brand
I often say every doctor has a brand, but how can that be? Everybody knows branding is for potato chips and toilet paper.
This has nothing do with commercials.
Your brand is what people think about you. It’s what comes to mind when your name is mentioned. It’s a tattoo on the brain that’s been created by your clinical deeds and actions.
This is nothing new, of course. Doctors had brands long before their ability to tweet. There was
- the surgeon who never fails to answer within 30 seconds of being paged;
- the ID doctor who’s dress is as impeccable as her cursive penmanship;
- the vascular surgeon known for his rough bedside manner and compulsive attention to operative detail;
- and the soft-spoken pediatrician who takes lots of time no matter how far behind she is.
Even that quirky anatomy professor with the seven dry-erase markers has a brand.
Now enter the age of new media, where every doctor with a smartphone is a publisher. Our new public persona reinforces, or even shapes, our identity. Great examples of doctors with well-defined brands are Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson (Seattle Mama Doc) and ZDoggMD. Swanson is defined by her passion, energy, voice, and transparency. ZDogg is defined by his unique delivery of health information.
Our public presence and our brand are a complex mix of:
- who we are as doctors IRL;
- how we’re seen and portrayed by others online; and
- how we choose to present ourselves online.
There are, of course, parts of what people think and believe about us that can’t be changed, but there are other parts that can be swayed. If we care, the latter is what we should be working on.
Digital footprints and fingerprints
Here in The Public Physician we spend a fair amount of time discussing digital footprint. Your digital footprint is what people see and understand about you when they search for you online. Beyond footprint, your digital fingerprint is important as well. If your footprint is what people find when they search for you, your fingerprint is what makes you unique. I first heard the concept of digital fingerprint discussed by Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson.
How are you defined and what’s your brand? What makes you unique?
Every physician has an audience
What you create should be determined by your audience. And every public physician has an audience, or at least they need one. Your audience is the tribe you are creating for. Your muse. They’re the folks you want to work with or speak to. Your audience is tightly connected to your purpose for being virtual. It may be patients. But not necessarily.
Many of my colleagues cringe at this idea of an audience. We identify audience with the mainstream media and celebrity. But audience is a reality of a public world. And you need to begin to recognize that you are the media.
What to do if you don’t have a firm angle on you place online?
Don’t sweat it. While it’s easier to have everything figured out before you jump in, few of us ever really do. Sometimes we have to try things to see how we like them.
Sites like the one you’re reading like to create the illusion that everything can be shaped and created as part of some master plan. It likely won’t work that way for you. And it didn’t for me when I started blogging in 2005.
What’s important is that you set things up so that you can pivot and switch direction without having to start over.
This page is part of a bigger project: The Public Physician, a field guide for life online. To read more check out the Public Physician landing page. Happy reading!